As a youngster when we had some congestion, now that’s a five-dollar word for ... stopped up. Momma would rub this salve down deep into my bony chest. It was probably the same grease we used on the cows and hogs to reduce swelling, nicks, cuts, fleas, ticks, flies, warts and the deadly hoof and mouth disease. It cured what ailed ya’. If it didn’t get you on yo’ feet, we’d try sumpin’ else. Maybe by that time the dreaded disease had just played out and run its course.
Remember how mommas would tear up a cotton flannel gown and hold it against the warm morning coal stove to get it good and hot? The smoke is slowly rising and she’s flapping to get the heat saturated through and through the garment. You are on your supposed death bed and don’t feel like budging. Brother, since you are so sick you just beg for some relief.
Neighbor, this salve stinks worse than rotten duck eggs left in the sun all summer and you know it is burning a hole through yo’ gizzard. But you are too puny to navigate. Could this be punishment for throwing scalding, dirty dish water on the defenseless black cat in the back yard? The cat didn’t throw any dishwater on me. I hope not! It’ll never happen again, I promise. (Until I’m wel ... heh, heh!)
I can still see Momma scurrying toward the bed holding the red hot flannel at the top corners out from her face as the steam is partially blinding her. I know she is headed toward me with a “cure.” But Lawdy Miss Clawsy I sho’ do dread the application. I’m petrified, certified, mortified and soon to think I’m purely sanctified.
Friends, I’m laying there afraid to move, afraid to sass Momma, afraid of the smoking flannel cloth, afraid of the oncoming pain, afraid I’m not going to breathe again the rest of my life, afraid of being afraid. Could I be laying in a new made casket if this smelly cloth possibly kills me? Then all they have to do is wrap me in a see-through bed sheet, cotton wagon truck me to the “hainted” graveyard. Tote me over to a freshly dug hole and chunk this little dying stump jumper down deep in a black gully just like an Egyptian Beaver Valley Mummy. Visions of sugar plums ain’t dancing through my noggin.
Now my Momma loved me. ’Cause she said she did. But I’m laying there with this smelly stuff clearing out my head and Momma approaches very slowly, real serious like, and softly says, “Now Bo, this might be a little warm!” Friends this is about like saying, “that a 300 hundred Hampshire sow had been in hog wallow all day and just might accidentally come out a little muddy.”
Sound somewhat similar? Since I ain’t a full fledged doctor I agreed. Momma softly performed her Florence Nightingale duty by applying unneeded pressure on my huffing, puffing chest. I could have jumped over the smokehouse, never touching the rusty tin roof. But I took it like the crybaby I was.
After all the suffering before, there was more to come with this scalding hot pack. Neighbor I got cured very quickly. But I’m not sure whether it was the hot pack or the fear, but it didn’t take long either. Old flames can’t burn worse than hot, smelly flannel mustard, mayonnaise, or pepper sauce soaking. Momma proudly reminded me this doctoring worked on my “gran’paw.” Wonderful, but that didn’t ease my pain none!
Sometimes, if you ain’t sick, perhaps you will be ... GLORY!
Otis Griffin is the author of the book “Southern Raisin.” He was born in Charleston, Tenn., and attended Rosemark Grammar School and Bolton High School.